Education; Vertical Thinking – Lateral Thinking

“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”

Edward DeBono

In the last post “Race to NOwhere – NOWhere” our students are falling asleep in their one dimensional learning rooms. What the chalkboards and rows of desks lack is creativity and excitement in thinking and problem solving. We are a nation whose public school system is churning out vertical thinkers in an age of 21 year old internet multi-millionaires, who are thinking laterally, way ‘outside the box’. These lateral thinkers are changing the millennium. Some have dropped out of prestigious Ivy League schools and their rows of desks and chalkboards  to create and implement their extraordinary ideas and solutions to problems, i.e., Facebook, SCVNGR, Microsoft, and others.

Vertical thinking, which is the primary thinking method practiced in the American public school system, is a method of the Industrial Age, not the High Tech Age. It destroys creativity in children by forcing them to seek the one “correct” solution to a problem while working within defined boundaries. Lateral thinkers use techniques for changing concepts and perceptions, and generating new ones. They explore multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach. Lateral thinking was developed by a major force in British creative thinking, Edward DeBono, who has doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge and is most famous for this term in his 1967 book, ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’.

A way of understanding lateral thinking is through its opposite, vertical thinking. A vertical thinker is analytical, careful and precise, taking the data around a problem and analyzing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions. A lateral thinker understands vertical thinking, but chooses to deliberately look outside of this bounded thought process. It requires digging in many other places because creativity is like a joke; you don’t get it until the punch-line at the end. It is not an easy concept to teach in a vertical thinking society and a good way to learn is through examples. A good example of lateral thinking is:

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus; An old lady who looks as if she is about to die; An old friend who once saved your life; The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose?
Click here for The Solution.

Lateral thinking is thus very much about standing back, looking at the big picture and understanding concepts. It also requires that you focus in on the parts that have perhaps been overlooked, challenging assumptions, and seeking alternatives. To be more simplistic:

•    vertical thinkers – CHOOSE
•    lateral thinkers – CHANGE
•    vertical – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS RIGHT
•    lateral – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS DIFFERENT
•    vertical – ONE THING MUST FOLLOW DIRECTLY FROM ANOTHER
•    lateral – MAKES DELIBERATE JUMPS
•    vertical – CONCENTRATES ON RELEVANCE
•    lateral – WELCOMES CHANCE INTRUSIONS
•    vertical – MOVES IN MOST LIKELY DIRECTIONS
•    lateral – EXPLORES LEAST LIKELY DIRECTIONS

Vertical thinking is mostly an individual process, solitary. Lateral thinking involves not only individual thinking, but also group thinking. Many large corporations use group lateral thinking to solve difficult problems by creating new solutions through brainstorming and close collaboration.

We desperately need to reorganize our classroom structure so that children may explore, share, and brainstorm for new ideas and new solutions outside the vertical path. There was a time in American education of the one room school. The teacher taught all grade levels, oftentimes with the help of her older students who looked after and help teach the youngest. The group dynamics of that generation, who had the opportunity to explore the best and most compelling ideas and solutions, led us into the Industrial Revolution.

The Volkswagen Company sponsored an initiative called  Thefuntheory. They invited people to invent a new structure for a mundane, already existent idea. Their challenge was to make this mundane, every day experience FUN for people to experience. They believe that “Fun can change people for the better!” The initiative produced the most extraordinary results and was held in Odenplan, Stockholm. One of the most intriguing ideas dealt with changing people’s behavior in taking either an escalator or the stairs. This is an amazing video of lateral, individual and group thinking! You will smile…

What would happen to our American educational system and our students if we unleashed this kind of fun, exploration, creativity, excitement, and learning in our classrooms? I suspect that every building, every classroom would be a beehive of energy and engaged participation. I would love to try this out somewhere! It’s not about not enough money. It’s not about better buildings. It’s about teachers letting go of their preconceived notions of education they bring into our classrooms from the Industrial Age. It’s about teachers challenging their students to come up with more than one solution to a problem. It is their obligation as professionals to explode the creative energy within their students, not destroy or inhibit it.

Learning to read together, all ages in creative Group Learning.

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  1. February 13, 2011 at 3:56 am

    A actually great submit by you my friend. We have bookmarked this page and will appear back following several days to examine for any new posts that you simply make.

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